Ministering in Afghanistan

Ministering in Afghanistan
Ministering in Afghanistan

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A Calvary Chapel Believer & Navy Officer Shines a Light in the Darkness of War Trauma & PTSD

Story by Debra Smith
Photos by Senior Master Sgt. Michael Du and U.S. Army Sergeant Kris Eglin

In this look back to Fall 2011, we rerun our story about U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Mike Langley, a Calvary Chapel believer who ministered to those affected by the horror of war while assisting in directing a medical team in southern Afghanistan. He has since retired from military service. This article originally ran in Issue 49 of Calvary Chapel Magazine.

A series of helicopters landed at the base trauma center with critically wounded Afghan soldiers from near the Pakistani border. The center’s senior chief and his crew quickly evaluated each patient as they were brought in on stretchers to the surgical unit. Throughout that day, the surgical crew encountered patients from four separate Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blasts. By the end of the day they had treated 19 patients—8 American and 11 Afghan soldiers and police officers.

Medic sits with wounded in medical evacuation flight

A medic sits alongside an Afghan child with a gunshot leg wound during a medical evacuation flight to a trauma center.

“September 18, 2010, is a day I will never forget,” said U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Mike Langley of Calvary Chapel Fredericksburg, VA. “That was the first day our team dealt with mass casualties, which the surgical team defined as four or more critical-condition patients.” The medical trauma-surgical team assessed each military person or civilian, treated who they could, and stabilized each before sending them on to the military hospital in Khandahar, Afghanistan. “That evening when we gathered, the lead surgeon made an announcement,” Mike continued. “He invited anyone struggling with the experience to talk with either the combat-stress management team, a surgeon who had professional counseling experience, or the ‘senior chief’—that’s me. When I heard that, I stood up and said, ‘I have no professional counseling training but if you come, I’ll be glad to pray and talk with you.” That day, Mike concluded, “More folks knocked on my door for prayer than went to the other options combined.”

Mike LangleyBeginning in August 2010, Mike and his team spent seven months deployed to Zabul Province, Afghanistan, operating the Miranda Trauma Center. There they treated American, European, and Afghan soldiers and civilians. Though the majority of their 320 combat-trauma patients entered with injuries considered life threatening, the team experienced a 99% survival rate. One of their few losses was 24-year-old Navy SEAL Denis Miranda, after whom the trauma center was named, who entered the center fatally injured on September 21 and passed away in front of Mike. While doctors made medical decisions, Mike directed the team in its day-to-day operations. Christians were a minority among the personnel on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Lagman, so there were numerous opportunities to speak of and demonstrate the love of Christ.

Leading by Serving

“And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave.” Matthew 20:27

“Throughout our seven months here, there was not an occasion when I needed to yell at someone to bring about action,” Mike asserted. He remembered once challenging a team member. “Unfortunately, many feel yelling is the only way to get things done,” he continued, in reflection. “The first time I saw someone on our team curse, scream, and wave his hands in people’s faces to try to communicate, I explained servant leadership—Jesus’ style of leading by getting to know people and serving them. When you have the self-control He provides, you can restrain yourself especially under pressure. Calmly directing people, when a personal relationship has been built, will provide more influence than yelling.”

“In most models of leadership, you seek to work your way to the top of a pyramid and look down on those you lead,” Mike observed. “In servant leadership, you turn that upside down—according to Jesus’ statement that making yourself the least will actually get you the most.”

Medics assess wounds of soldier

Senior Chief Mike Langley (third from left) of Calvary Chapel Fredericksburg, VA, and his crew assess a Romanian soldier’s wounds prior to surgery.

A Different Mission Field

Mike accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in 2000 and began attending church with his family. Four years later, he went on a mission trip to Honduras. He found the experience thrilling, and he soon prayed about retiring and moving with his wife and children to the mission field. The man who led him to Christ challenged him otherwise. “He asked me if I had considered that maybe the Lord was calling me to be a witness for Jesus Christ by my actions and lifestyle while in the military,” Mike recalled. “I prayed about that, and we soon realized that the man’s counsel was wise.”

His work ethic and attitude toward church involvement has opened doors for ministry in the Navy. “It has always seemed natural to me that when you have a relationship with the Lord, realizing that He gave up His Son for you, it prompts a desire to be in His service,” Mike related, “whether on the job or among the body of Christ.” He was then deployed to Japan where he and his family became actively involved and served at Calvary Chapel Okinawa.

Medics and soldiers carry a wounded soldier

U.S. Army medics and Romanian soldiers carry a wounded soldier to an awaiting ambulance and then on to the Miranda Trauma Center.

In May 2011, two months after leaving Afghanistan, Mike was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD). Back at home, he feels that the Lord is using his involvement in ministry at CC Fredericksburg as one component to heal him. “To deal with the effects of the trauma, I had to be sure not to let pride get in the way,” Mike admitted. “And I did two things: First, I went to talk to my pastors, and second, I went to see a military psychologist.”

Mike’s pastor at CC Fredericksburg, VA, Mark Ramirez, a former Marine himself, has witnessed how the Lord used his own military service to relate to those that have served. “Mike sought biblical counseling to help lead him through the challenges of PTSD,” offered Mark. “It helped Mike to talk to someone who has also experienced the rigors of military life with its demands and long family separations.”

Mike said the hardest thing about PTSD has been the effects on his family. “I sometimes wake up amidst nightmares, directing my imaginary team to search the patients for weapons,” he expressed. “The smallest thing can trigger a memory, and I’ve spent hours sitting on the couch not talking.” In June, Mike added, he was driving with his wife Cindy when she nudged him and asked gently, “‘Are you there? You just left, emotionally.’ That’s hard,” he continued. “I want to protect her from what I experienced, but it’s obvious that I’m affected. And she wants to be there for me.” Initially, he said, it hurt Cindy and nearly sparked conflict when he was not more open about his experiences.

The couple has attended a returning warrior conference and pastoral counseling to work through the challenges presented. “Deployment breaks up a lot of marriages,” Mike declared. “We refuse to let that happen.”

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. Ephesians 4:29

Surgeons operate

Navy surgeons work in teams to provide medical care at Forward Operating Base Lagman, Zabul, Afghanistan.

A Powerful Contrast

Mike’s edifying speech about his wife formed a stark contrast to the disrespectful words he frequently overheard from team members talking about their wives. “So I made it my mission to defend these women I had never met,” he said. “When I heard the men talking trash, I would challenge them to ‘man up’ by taking the lead and refusing to disrespect their wives verbally—regardless of how they perceived, rightly or wrongly, that their wives had acted toward them.” One day, recalled Mike, a man remarked that he wanted to be a husband more like Mike. “Oh no, you don’t,” Mike replied. “You don’t know how wretched I am; you don’t want to be like me.” The man insisted, stating that he wanted to be more edifying toward his wife. “That’s not you wanting to be like me, that’s you wanting to be like Jesus,” Mike replied. “And you can’t have Him in your marriage without having Him in your personal life.” The conversation continued, and Mike invited the man, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Tony Davis to accompany him to chapel on Sunday.

Senior Chief Mike Langley speaks at a podium

Senior Chief Mike Langley speaks to more than 200 military personnel during the renaming ceremony, held in memory of U.S. Navy SEAL Petty Officer 3rd Class Denis Miranda.

Tony came, and the chaplain shared clearly the Gospel of salvation by faith in Christ. Afterward as Mike and Tony talked, Mike invited Tony to pray to receive Christ, and he did. Throughout the remaining four months of their deployment, the two met daily to study Genesis. “That was such a great opportunity,” Mike acknowledged, “because typically in the U.S. when discipling someone, it’s only possible to meet once a week. Base lifestyle affords a chance to meet every day, and after time in the Word we often worked out and ate lunch together as well. That made it possible for him to become deeply grounded in the Lord quickly.” Mike’s home church had just completed a sermon series on Genesis before his departure, so he had his notes from CC Fredericksburg’s Pastor Mark Ramirez to use throughout the new Christian’s mentorship.

Tony Davis

U. S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Tony Davis (left) from Florida, accepted Christ as his Savior during deployment.

Mike said that nearly 20 individuals from around the FOB came to know Christ throughout his deployment, and he saw about 12 people baptized in FOB Lagman’s freezing-cold baptismal. “They tried to warm the water the best they could,” he laughed, “but it never worked. Those poor people were blue as they emerged.”

Throughout his time in Afghanistan, Mike worked with FOB Lagman’s lead chaplain to serve others—and ministered on occasion to the chaplain himself. “Because they’re always serving others, chaplains rarely have opportunity to share their own problems and be prayed for themselves,” Mike said. The two built a friendship, and the chaplain invited Mike to teach at the chapel a few times. Mike focused on the first chapter of Acts, emphasizing the Holy Spirit’s three different roles—being with, in, and upon an individual. “When I got saved, I was a military instructor,” Mike said. “The Lord has since used that teaching experience in His service.”

Langley opens care packages

Mike receives care packages for the team from his sister and the company for which she works.

Leaving It There

“We weren’t prepared emotionally for that first mass casualty on September 18,” Mike emphasized. “In fact, we weren’t prepared for any of them. Emotionally, it’s the same feeling that you get being on a roller coaster, except that instead of being 30 to 60 seconds long, it lasts for 6 to 14 hours. So by the end of the day, you’re completely wiped out. The reality of seeing God’s creations missing limbs and body parts very quickly takes a toll on you emotionally. As leader of this group, it was hard for me to see the people I worked with so torn emotionally.” Mike frequently checked up on each team member, asking them how they felt they were holding up against the stress and allowing them opportunity to process their experiences verbally. “The key is to get them to talk through it then,” he advised. “That way, they don’t bottle it up and take it home.”

Mike’s concern for others, he said, did unfortunately lead him to forget his own need to process his experiences, and he feels that lack of decompressing contributed to his PTSD. But he knows that God has been working in him through this.

“I will never be the same again,” he continued. “Yet that’s not all bad. I will always be able to relate better to others who have suffered war trauma. There’s a whole group out there—it’s not just Afghanistan and Iraq veterans—those from Vietnam through World War II who never got to decompress from their experiences. Through the coming years I’m confident God will provide many opportunities to minister to people as a result of what I’ve gone through.”

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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